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Sink or Swim

"France's answer to The Full Monty"

★★★½ - STUFF 

- Lately, Bertrand (Mathieu Amalric) has felt like a square peg in a round hole.

Out of work for two years, his days consist of a cocktail of anti-depressants and Candy Crush on the couch.

Desperate for some kind of inspiration and connection, he's drawn to a sign at the local pool seeking a member for a male synchronised swimming team.   

"You need willpower, grace, rhythm and a healthy lifestyle," a seemingly skeptical coach Delphine (Virginie Efira) informs him, before welcoming him to the squad.

As they struggle to coalesce, Bertrand discovers each of his team-mates is facing issues of their own. Theirry (Philippe Katerine) is contemplating redundancy at the hands of a computer, Marcus' (Benoit Poelvoorde) pool business is failing and aging rocker Simon (Jean-Huques Anglade) is still without a hit after 17 albums and reduced to playing for old folks.

At the urging of Delphine, all of them attempt to "find their inner-woman", but when they ambitiously set their sights on representing France at the World Synchronised Swimming Championships, the pressure – which turned her into an alcoholic when she was competing – becomes too much for her. Fortunately, there's a ready made replacement coach waiting in the wings.

Delphine's former partner Amanda (Leila Bekhti) might be wheelchair-bound, but she's a far tougher and meaner trainer – one determined to get the best out of her charges, no matter what the cost.

Inspired by the story of a Swedish team that competed at the 2007 world championships (a true life tale that's also the subject of Rob Brydon's upcoming British comedy Swimming with Men), Sink or Swim (or The Great Bath as the French called it) is a modern day spin on the now two decade-old mega hit The Full Monty.  

As with Peter Cattaneo's 1997 dramedy, this focuses on a group of down-and-out blokes whose lives are transformed via a seemingly unlikely medium. Director Lellouche (also one of the movie's three writers and best-known for his roles in films like Tell No One and C'est La Vie) also borrows Cattaneo's conceit of peppering the soundtrack with familiar tracks. Here though, rather than mid-70s staples, Lellouche fast-forwards a decade to the era of Tears for Fears, Olivia Newton John and Phil Collins, albeit to the same memorable effect. That's much needed because, at times, the squad's downbeat demeanours do become a bit wearying.

However, while the synchronised swimming sometimes feels like an afterthought, Canet uses some clever waterline shots to offer a unique perspective on the water ballet, and it all builds to a hilarious, crowd-pleasing climax.

Not quite The Full Monty, but Sink or Swim is no half-baked premise either.

- James Croot, STUFF

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